The Coca-Cola Company (KO - Free Coca-Cola Stock Report) wrapped up 2016 in lackluster fashion, as the beverage giant reported its seventh consecutive quarter of lower sales and earnings. In all, revenues for the December quarter fell 6% year over year, to $9.4 billion, while earnings dipped 3%, to $0.37 a share. (On both measures, the company finished slightly ahead of our estimates of $9.2 billion and $0.36, respectively.) As has been the case for some time, structural changes (including refranchising efforts) and currency headwinds continued to impede progress, reducing pretax income by 7% and 11%, respectively.
Absent these factors, the company's performance looks more encouraging. Led by improved pricing and mix, organic revenues rose 6%, and comparable currency neutral pretax earnings were up 14%. (Total unit case volumes, though, were down 1 %.) Generally, Coke appears to be having the most success in developed markets, particularly North America. Net revenues there rose 8% in the quarter (and 4% for the year), and pretax profits were up 18%. Management, though, indicated that challenging macroeconomic conditions are hurting results in many emerging and developing markets.
Looking ahead, the company has lot on its plate in the new year. Coke aims to finalize the refranchising of its North America bottling operations in 2017. Similar moves are also in the works overseas. For instance, in China, Coke's third-largest market, the company is working to complete the sale of its bottling operations to two franchise partners. These types of structural changes in the asset portfolio will continue to weigh on profits in the near term, but should ultimately result in a higher-margin, less capital-intensive business model. Meanwhile, a changing of the guard will also be taking place at the corporate headquarters in Atlanta, as CEO Muhtar Kent plans to step aside in May in favor of James Quincey, who currently serves as President and COO. (Mr. Kent will remain Chairman of the Board.)
From a profit perspective, the near-term outlook remains uninspiring, with the company probably facing a fourth consecutive year of lower earnings. In fact, in response to management's guidance, we have trimmed our 2017 earnings estimate by a $0.10 a share, to $1.85. This would represent a 3% decline from last year's tally of $1.91. The aforementioned structural changes and ongoing currency headwinds once again stand as the big impediments, likely reducing pretax profits by a combined 10%-12%.
KO stock has been struggling to gain traction with consumers, and this latest report seems unlikely to break it out of its doldrums. Notably, this equity was the second worst performing component of the Dow 30 for 2016, declining 4% in price, and it has been essentially treading water so far in 2017. Still, these shares are probably worth a closer look for conservative investors. This issues carries our Highest rank (1) for Safety and offers a yield that is about 100 basis points higher than the typical Dow-30 equity.
About the Company:The Coca-Cola Company is the world's leading marketer of ready-to-serve, nonalcoholic beverages. On any given day, 1.7 billion individual servings of the company's brands are consumed by people around the globe. The Atlanta-based company currently has more than 500 wholly owned and licensed brands, including 15 that generate $1 billion or more in annual sales.